Crusaders set to usher in new era in 2024

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New Crusaders coach Rob Penney said the Chiefs might be looking at it that way, but for the Crusaders, it is a new season, a new group and an opportunity for the side to make a good start to their campaign.

The game will have extra meaning for the player chosen to step into Richie Mo'unga's boots at first five-eighths, the former Chiefs player Rivez Reihana.

He got the nod ahead of Waikato product Taha Kemara.

Penney said his choice resulted from Reihana having done everything 'superbly' for the side in the pre-season.

"They are both outstanding young men with great leadership qualities and skill sets. Rivez has a little more maturity and more experience at this level.

"There will be opportunities for both of them in the future. We've given the nod to Rivez at this point, and he's grasped it with both hands over the last 10 days and led the group well. We're excited about what he's going to provide us.

"He's just got to be himself. He's really competent and he'll add value to us by being himself and not trying to be a miracle worker, or try to do too much. He's got outstanding players around him and it's about the sum total of the parts being greater than the individual. That's where his value will be."

Also making his debut for the side is centre Levi Aumua, while in the pack, All Blacks prop George Bower, who missed last year's Rugby World Cup due to injury, will make his return to top-level play.

That will be some compensation for the loss of All Blacks wing/fullback Will Jordan.

Penney said his loss was significant for several reasons.

"He's a world-class player, a massive influence on the group. It's disappointing for the competition as a whole because he is such a character within the game and somebody that brings punters to watch."

Penney said his shoulder injury had been managed for a year or two and had got progressively worse.

"It may have been a little issue during the World Cup where it got aggravated once again and then I guess the conservative management component wasn't as effective as we would have hoped."

Chiefs v Crusaders: Friday 23 February, 7.05pm NZT, FMG Stadium Waikato


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